Dear Abby: As a 65-year-old, I am no youngster. I have a big problem. I have a friend, "Manny," who is 74; his wife, "Alice," is 73. Every time I visit their home, Alice beats up on Manny. Not physically, but mentally. She cusses and yells and puts him down. I am considered a family friend, so she does not ask me to leave or step out of the room. She just starts in on poor Manny.

This is a terrible situation. Alice has driven away every friend Manny's ever had. I could go on and on. It makes me sick. I feel caught in the middle, and I don't want to be in the middle of a man-and-wife problem.

I don't want to tell Manny I can no longer be his friend because of his wife's behavior, and I also don't feel it's my place to protect him from his wife.

Manny has a lot of medical problems. He has emphysema and is on oxygen 24 hours a day. He also recently got a pacemaker. For obvious reasons, he's no longer handy around the house. I try to help, but sometimes I feel what's the point in visiting them? Any suggestions? — Bill In Palm Springs

Dear Bill: Take Alice aside and tell her you are worried about HER. She seems to be experiencing caregiver burnout. Perhaps if she gets additional help and some time for herself, she'll be more tolerant. If she refuses, tell her you have no choice but to report her to adult protective services for elder abuse.

Dear Abby: My husband and I separated three years ago, right after the birth of our second daughter. He said he didn't love me anymore and was no longer attracted to me.

We are now divorced. Abby, he never comes around to see the girls. He won't even call once in a while to find out how they're doing. The only time he sees them is the rare occasion when I call upon him to baby-sit.

As a single mom with a demanding career that takes me out of town on a regular basis, I am blessed to have two devoted baby sitters. One is my mother, and the other is a good friend and neighbor who happens to be male. His name is "Anthony." In the last year, the girls have grown very fond of Anthony and have started calling him "Daddy," since they spend far more time with him than with their own father. Anthony doesn't seem to mind. In fact, he says he's proud to be part of their lives, and has talked to me more than once about becoming a permanent part of ALL our lives.

Anthony is divorced with two children of his own. Would it be inappropriate for me to start something romantic with him, or should our friendship be left alone? Above all, I want what's best for my little girls. — Confused But Hopeful, Santa Maria, Calif.

Dear Confused But Hopeful: There's nothing inappropriate about two single people dating. Start slow — dinner, movies, walks. Plan activities that include your children and his. Find out how you all relate to one another. If you have a romantic future with Anthony, you will know it soon enough. If there is no romantic spark, maintain your friendship and a good-neighbor policy.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips. © Universal Press Syndicate